Kendrick Sampson — the actor and activist who was at the forefront of Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles after the murder of George Floyd last year — was on set today, awaiting the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial like millions of Americans across the country. He tells The Hollywood Reporter that while he thought that “anything can happen — 2020 and 2021 have been super unpredictable,” the Insecure star felt fairly certain of how things would turn out. “I was leaning heavily toward this being a guilty verdict,” he says.
But, in the wake of the former Minnesota police officer being found guilty in his murder trial of Floyd on three counts today — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter — Sampson tells THR by phone that he isn’t in an unalloyed celebratory mood. “I thought I might feel some relief but to be frank I still feel pretty anxious and still a bit heavy which I wasn’t expecting,” he says. “At the same time, I feel like this is a huge, huge, huge, huge moment towards healing and validation for the loved ones of George Floyd and all of the people who jumped into the streets last year to put pressure on the system to hold Chauvin accountable.”
Before he was pulled back to filming, Sampson, who founded the racial justice group BLD PWR in 2019, spoke about why he feels police unions wanted Chauvin to be found guilty; about how the enormous protests of 2021 brought the country to this historic moment and what he sees as next steps in the movement to end police killings and brutality.
Do you feel like justice has been served?
I know that this is not justice. Justice would be George Floyd still alive and thriving and not being fearful of being targeted by the American legal system and police. So this is not justice. And honestly, it’s not really accountability because accountability is taking responsibility for what happened and then repairing the damage done and being part of the process of healing.
Why did you feel some certainty that there would be a guilty verdict?
Because I know that police associations and mayors and pro-police institutions and the prison industrial complex have been investing heavily in pressuring a guilty verdict on this particular case — [to] publicly to separate themselves and their own cases of Derek Chauvins in their own departments. As we’ve seen in the past few weeks with Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo and a few other high-profile murders by police, they want to separate themselves and have Chauvin act as the sacrificial lamb so that they can get back to business as usual. And we’re not going to accept that. The whole system is problematic in itself. The whole system is on trial. It’s not just about Chauvin, and he still needs to be sentenced.
Can you talk more about why this moment feels like one of validation?
I think this is proof that when we fight, we win. It took all of this to admit to one police murder. All of this — millions and millions of people out in the streets. The reason this is unprecedented and so huge is that it created fear in police unions and in police departments. It took all of us in the streets to drive them to fear enough that they sacrificed just one of their murderous officers. And that means that this is the beginning. It shows that the power is with the people when we organize and when we fight. And it should invigorate people to keep the pressure on and keep up the fight. I just don’t want anybody to be fooled. The system has always worked the way it’s supposed to work. It’s been oppressive and it was founded for that purpose.
What does the continued work for justice look like to you now?
[The verdict] is just a piece of what we’re asking for now. We have to continue the fight to make sure that we keep up the demand to defund the police and to divest from a harmful system and bring about true justice.
What does that true justice look like to you?
Building new systems where the foundation of care is based in the community. There are things like the BREATHE act [a proposed federal bill to divest resources from incarceration and policing] that can be passed. People are still fighting to end qualified immunity [a doctrine which shields government officials from personal liability]; New Mexico just became the second state to end qualified immunity, a reason that many officers get off.
We’re fighting to defund and abolish the system. Which means really thinking about who should be handling mental-health crises, because it’s not the police. Who should be handling substance-abuse crises, because it’s not the police. Who should be handling domestic-abuse crises — it’s not the police. Who should be handling traffic stops, because it’s not the police. They don’t do anything but make those situations worse and many of us end up dead or abused or with something on our record that shouldn’t be there. Let’s take the billions of dollars that are invested in further harm in those situations at the hands of police and move them into new systems that actually specialize in taking care of the people who are the most vulnerable in those situations.